Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Woolly dog hair found in Coast Salish blanket

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Researchers at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington, have confirmed that a Coast Salish blanket in its collection was woven from the fur of the woolly dog. Woolly dogs were carefully bred and husbanded for centuries by the Coast Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest, who sheared them like sheep and used their thick, long fur to weave textiles. Because the trait for this woollen hair was recessive, the Salish were meticulous about keeping the woolly dogs separate from their hunting dogs to ensure the continuation of the genetic line.

Explorer George Vancouver encountered the Coast Salish and their marvelous woolly dogs in May of 1792 during his expedition to the Pacific Northwest. He was in Puget Sound on the south end of Bainbridge Island when he met a small group of Coast Salish on the move with all their earthly possessions. Their dogs squeezed into the single canoe with them. In his account of the expedition, Vancouver describes the animals thus:

The dogs belonging to this tribe of Indians were numerous, and much resembled those of Pomerania, though in general somewhat larger. They were all shorn as close to the skin as sheep are in England; and so compact were their fleeces, that large portions could be lifted up by a corner without causing any separation. They were composed of a mixture of a coarse kind of wool, with very fine long hair, capable of being spun into yarn.

When the Europeans arrived, 1,000 years of Mendelian curation broke down irretrievably. Displacement of tribes, uncontrolled mixing with dogs brought by explorers and traders and introduced diseases devastated the breed. By the end of the 19th century, the woolly dog was extinct.

Because textiles are delicate and so many of them were sold, discarded or destroyed, the rich tradition of Coast Salish woolly dog weaving was reduced to a few items in scattered museums, and even fewer of them have been confirmed to have been made with woolly dog hair. In 2011, seven pieces in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, some collected during the Lewis and Clark expedition, were discovered through microscopic examination to have woolly dog hair in them. The Burke’s blanket is the only object in a Northwest museum confirmed to have been woven from woolly dog hair, which is enormously exciting to researchers and Coast Salish weavers who will finally have the opportunity to study an ancient craft in the place where it was developed and practiced for a thousand years.

Not much is known about the ownership history of the blanket. It was once part of the collection of Native American artifacts assembled by none other than Judge James Wickersham, who is best known today as the first federal judge of the newly formed Third District covering Alaska and his tireless advocacy for Alaskan statehood, but who was a Washington state representative before that and lived in Tacoma from 1883 until 1900. (While he lived there, he was involved in one of Tacoma’s most ignoble incidents. Wickersham was part of the mob of white residents who forcibly expelled all the Chinese from Tacoma in 1885. He was one of the ringleaders, in fact, one of the so-called Tacoma 27, who were arrested and prosecuted but never convicted.)

After Wickersham’s death in Juneau in 1939, his collection was sold to a tourist store in Alaska. Another collector recognized the historical and cultural importance of the objects and acquired them. In 1975, they were donated to the Burke Museum. The blanket has a simple design — two brown selvages on the far left and right against a creamy-buttery background — but the lucky break came in the form of a small tear.

Unlike many plaited Coast Salish blankets, the blanket is twined (meaning that the weaver used two horizontal “weft” yarns, one passing in front while the other passes behind the vertical “warp” yarn).

“As soon as I saw the warp yarns exposed by the tear, I knew this was an unusual blanket” said Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa, a Coast Salish spinning expert. Hammond-Kaarremaa received a grant through the Museum’s Bill Holm Center to study Coast Salish blankets and robes in the Burke collection. The unusual warp in this blanket is made from a combination of string, bark and sinew. As she pored over the blanket, she began to suspect the materials used to weave it may also have included woolly dog hair. “The warp caught my attention but it was the weft that posed the mystery: the weft fiber did not look like mountain goat, nor did it look like sheep wool. It looked like woolly dog hair I had seen at the Smithsonian.”

The Burke enlisted the aid of Elaine Humphrey and Terrence Loychuk from the University of Victoria Advanced Microscopy Facility to study the blanket’s fibers. They’ve examined several Coast Salish blankets using light and scanning electron microscopy. Advanced microscopic analysis confirmed the woolly dog hair.

“This exciting discovery brings attention to a fascinating piece of Northwest history, and connects the Burke’s collections to this unique, Coast Salish tradition,” said Dr. Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Burke Museum curator of Northwest Native art. “We look forward to sharing the blanket with weavers and other researchers, so that it can be reconnected to the Indigenous knowledge systems from which it came.”

The blanket will be on display this weekend as part of the Burke’s new Testing, Testing 1-2-3 exhibition. Burke ethnologists will be there on Saturday from 11:00 AM until noon to answer questions about the blanket and the Coast Salish woolly dog hair tradition.

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British Museum conserves Dürer’s Triumphal Arch

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

In 2014, conservators at the National Gallery of Denmark’s Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) began an extensive program of restoration of one of their two complete sets of The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I, a monumental print designed by Albrecht Dürer in 1515 to glorify the family, good deeds and many victories of the Holy Roman Emperor. This was no rhinoceros print, as great as that is. Dürer’s workshop carved 195 wood blocks which were printed on 36 large sheets of paper which together depicted an enormous triumphal arch crammed full of details. When displayed as a single piece, the print is a massive 9′ 10″ by 11′ 6″, the largest woodcut produced during the Renaissance and still today one of the largest in the world.

Denmark’s Royal Collection of Graphic Art two sets were initially acquired and maintained in loose-leaf form. One was only affixed to a backing in the 1860s so it could be displayed in all its propagandistic glory as Dürer had intended. Decades later, the paper backing was badly discolored and the ink faded from exposure to sun. It was placed in storage for its own protection until conservators could figure out how to address its many problems. With the 500th anniversary of the print coming up in 2015 and a new exhibition, Might and Glory: Dürer in the Emperor’s Service, in which to display it, SMK conservators painstakingly peeled the original paper off the 19th century backing and restored the massive print.

When I wrote about this story in 2015, the available photographs were deeply unsatisfactory. The print is so huge and so busy, it screams for giant pics, but there were none to be found. The only saving grace was a zoomable image of the restored Triumphal Arch on the SMK website. That image is no longer accessible (or at least it hasn’t been the last few times I’ve tried). Nor were there any decent photos of the restoration work. The British Museum has now filled the void left in me two years ago.

The BM has a first edition of the print as well. It was exhibited in autumn of 2014 and 70,000 visitors went to see it in the three months it was on display. When the show was over and the exhibition dismantled, British Museum conservators were able to study and treat the print thanks to funding from private donors. They blogged about the process for years, starting with the move to the display gallery and continuing through the conservation work, blog entries that include a passel of pictures (albeit rather small for my taste).

One night at the Museum: moving Dürer’s paper triumph
Conserving Dürer’s Triumphal Arch: a moving experience
Conserving Dürer’s Triumphal Arch: photography and imaging
Spring cleaning with Dürer: conserving the Triumphal Arch
Conserving Dürer’s Triumphal Arch: coming apart at the seams
Conserving Dürer’s Triumphal Arch: it’ll all come out in the wash
Conserving Dürer’s Triumphal Arch: Getting the big picture

That’s nearly three years of documentation of the conservation of the Arch, a labour as oversized and impressive as the print itself. The British Museum’s website has a zoomable image of the print which is a) functional, and b) complete with annotations on highlighted sections. There are also two YouTube videos of the conservation. The first from 2016 is a time-lapse recording of conservators removing the linen backing from the paper sheets:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/X_DvVp6sOvU&w=430]

The second was uploaded just a couple of weeks ago and is by far the best view I’ve seen so far of the full print. It’s the only capture I’ve seen that truly conveys the massive proportions of the Triumphal Arch, and it features some excellent commentary from conservators on the challenges of dealing with such a huge print.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/cEK26P6r6xo&w=430]

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Dutch teacher spends the night watched by The Night Watch

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

School teacher Stefan Kasper was just one of thousands of people to buy his ticket to visit the Rijksmuseum on Thursday. Kasper was leading a group of his high school students from the Montessori College in Aerdenhout on a field trip to the museum when his ticket was scanned and museum staff descended upon him with celebratory enthusiasm. It turns out Kasper was the 10 millionth visitor since the Rijksmuseum’s grand reopening four years ago, as such he was granted the unique opportunity to sleep securely under the supervision of Frans Banninck Cocq, Willem van Ruytenburch, the girl with the chickens and the rest of the motley crew from Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch.

This is the first time anyone has been allowed to spend the night in the Rijksmuseum, and Stefan Kasper, still in something of a daze from being suddenly surrounded by the museum’s General Director and a camera crew, accepted the offer on the spot. His bed was already set up in the Night Watch gallery and a gourmet dinner would be provided by chef Joris Bijdendijk of the Rijksmuseum’s Michelin star-awarded in-house restaurant, RIJKS.

It was a revelatory experience for Kasper.

“I’ve slept two metres (6.5 feet) from the Night Watch. It’s magic, I still can’t believe it,” said Stefan Kasper on Friday, a Dutch school teacher and artist who bought the lucky ticket. […]

The star-struck Kaspers told AFP he was completely left alone for the night and that the museum rolled out the red carpet for him.

“There were no guards, or they were very well hidden,” he added.

Kasper said he used the opportunity to “take some selfies and walk around in pants and socks in completely empty rooms,” before enjoying a gazpacho soup and a cheek of beef, prepared by top chef Joris Bijdendijk of the Michelin-star RIJKS restaurant.

Kasper — who said he was not in particular a fan of Rembrandt’s works — admitted he had looked at the painting “with new eyes.”

“I discovered characters that I have never seen before. They came to life in front of me. It’s an experience that is forever etched in my memory,” he said.

His opinions on Rembrandt aside, he had the good judgement to use the opportunity to slide in his besocked feet on the beautifully renovated floors of the museum (albeit with his trousers still on and no Old Time Rock and Roll playing in the background). He even got to cross the impassable boundary of the velvet rope to get up close to the art. You can see him enjoy his Night at the Rijksmuseum to the fullest in this video.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/ayp8BGySqyY&w=430]

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Skrydstrup Woman wasn’t from Denmark either

Monday, May 29th, 2017

In 2015, a team of researchers from the National Museum of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen announced that Egtved Girl, a Bronze Age woman whose well-preserved, beautifully appointed oak burial has made her an icon of Danish archaeology, was not from Denmark. Strontium isotope analysis of her molar and wool fibers found in the grave found that she most probably from southern Germany, most likely the Black Forest area.

Egtved Girl isn’t the only Bronze Age woman in Denmark buried in a hollowed-out oak coffin discovered in an exceptional state of preservation. Researchers have targeted three of them — Egtved Girl, Skrydstrup Woman and the Borum Eshøj Woman — as part of a study that examines the origins and mobility of these women whose rich grave goods and elaborate burials attest to their high social status. The Tales of Bronze Age Women study aims to understand how elite women were perceived in Bronze Age society and what their origins and movements over time can tell us about their roles in establishing and reinforcing long-distance trade networks, political alliances and cultural exchanges.

Skrydstrup Woman was certainly a person of great importance in her community. Her remains were unearthed in a burial mound in Southern Jutland in 1935. One of the richest Bronze Age burials ever discovered, her wool skirt and sweater were in exceptional condition. Attached to her woven belt was an ornate comb made of horn. She wore two large spiral earrings made of gold and a necklace. Her blonde hair was two feet long, intricately plaited in multiple braids then drawn up into an updo bound by a horse-hair hairnet. Her teeth were in fantastic condition, with thick, clean layers of enamel and not a single cavity, evidence that she had had a healthy, varied diet as a child.

Her elaborate hairstyle and clothing, too large and bulky to be practical for moving around in, had to have been arranged as part of her funerary treatment. It must have taken hours for the hair to be braided and styled, and the skirt, made from a single two meter-wide piece of fabric that was repeatedly folded at the waist to create even pleats that went all the way around the body, was also an extremely labour-intensive endeavor. The tumulus she was buried in was 13 meters (42.6 feet) in diameter and 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) high, all formed from thousands of pounds of peat that had to be harvested and arranged into the mound shape. The entire community had to be involved in creating such a time-consuming and resource-intensive grave.

Since the sensational discovery of Egtved Girl’s origins, the research team has discovered that Skrydstrup Woman also moved to Denmark from foreign parts. Like Egtved Girl, she was only around 17 years old when she died in about 1300 B.C., but unlike Egtved Girl, who arrived on Jutland a year or so before her death, she had lived in Skydstrup for three or four years at the time of her death. Before she moved to Denmark as a young teen 13 or 14 years of age, Skydstrup Woman lived hundreds of kilometers away. The strontium isotope signature couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, but likely candidates include what are today the Czech Republic, France or central Germany.

The new information about the famous Bronze Age remains was revealed on national broadcaster DR’s big-budget documentary series Historien om Danmark (The History of Denmark).

“This is going to change a whole lot about our understanding of the entire Bronze Age,” Professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark says in the programme. […]

“The result is important because it shows that the Egtved girl was not a freak occurrence. It appears there is a pattern that is telling us how people, and in this instance women, moved around during the Bronze Age,” Frei, who also led the Egtved girl study, told the broadcaster. [..]

The sudden long-distance migration may be the sign of an alliance between tribes or an arranged marriage, Frei told DR.

For more about the Tales of Bronze Age Women project, watch this overview video from the National Museum.
[youtube=https://youtu.be/JwCIkQGTTIw&w=430]

This video gives more detail about how strontium isotopes act as “nature’s GPS.”
[youtube=https://youtu.be/RHvy2Io0d94&w=430]

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Watch Irving Finkel play the Royal Game of Ur

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

If you’ve the day off Memorial Day, or if you just have 25 minutes to spare during the course of your day, you can finally luxuriate in the nerdly delights of watching Dr. Irving Finkel, one of the world’s foremost experts in cuneiform and the man who deciphered the oldest game rulebook in the world, playing the Royal Game of Ur. His opponent is YouTuber Tom Scott, who seems a bright, capable fellow and who is, of course, completely outclassed. He’s very cheerful about it, though, and puts up a fine fight.

This is not the amazing open tournament Dr. Finkel played at the Getty on April 2nd about which I promised a glowing write-up to any reader who attended and reported on the experience. It was a private game filmed and uploaded to the British Museum’s YouTube channel, and I suspect that makes for a far more entertaining video. The asides to the camera and the dry repartee between the players are sheer joy, and they’ve added a helpful graphic to show the progress of each players’ pieces which are otherwise hard to distinguish on the board itself. There are also captions explaining the action and some of the historical context, as well as letting viewers know of coming attractions like Scott’s exploration of probability. Then there’s the slow-mo instant replay of key moments — mainly involving Finkel’s killer moves — that would otherwise have been missed.

Royal Game of Ur, ca. 2600 B.C. Photo courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum.The version of the game they’re playing is highly simplified. They’re using a replica of the beautiful lapis lazuli, shell and wood board that was unearthed by Leonard Woolley in Iraq’s Royal Cemetery of Ur in 1926-1927, and ridiculously cool tetrahedral dice. The best part, other than just seeing the game played by the man who has researched it for decades and the unsuspecting lad who found himself in Dr. Finkel’s crosshairs, is that these guys are just plain funny. The little burns never end. Finkel wins all the points for his aside to the camera in reaction to Scott’s probability thing: “I’m rather intrigued to discover that my opponent, who looks like a perfectly civilized person, is in fact mathematically capable.”

On a personal note, watching Irving Finkel be awesome makes me think of Livy’s account of the sack of Rome by the Gauls under Brennus in 390 B.C. Brennus’ men were so awestruck by the immovable dignity of the elderly patricians who had refused to leave their homes and remained seated stock-still in their chairs while the Gauls plundered the city that at first all they could do was stare at them. When one of them could no longer contain himself and stroked the beard of patrician M. Papirius, Papirius responded by striking him with his ivory staff. That broke the spell. Papirius was the first to be killed. The rest of the patricians were next. Then the Gauls killed everyone else and burned the city to the ground.

I’m not saying I would disrespect the purity and greatness of Dr. Finkel’s snowy beard by daring to put my filthy mitts upon it, but I now understand the powerful draw Brennus’ men must have felt more than I ever did.

But I digress. Watch this game. It’s a blast.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/WZskjLq040I&w=430]

 

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Ancient bronze stud stolen from Pompeii exhibition

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Today in people are the worst news, a bronze artifact from the 6th century B.C. has been stolen from an exhibition at the archaeological site of Pompeii. The object was a door ornament on loan from the National Archaeological Museum of Basilicata in Potenza. It’s not of great monetary value. Just 7.3 inches in diameter and relatively plain in decoration, it was insured for 300 euros ($333).

Archaeological site of Satrianum. Photo by Liberotag73.The piece is of great historical meaning to Basilicata, however, as it was discovered at one of the most important archaeological sites in the region: a hill known as Torre di Satriano where a Norman castle, of which only the tower remains, once dominated the land. Excavations beginning in the 1960s (the first led by pioneer of early Italian archaeology R. Ross Holloway) have discovered evidence of human habitation of the site going back to the second millennium B.C., developing into a complex system of terraced settlements in the 8th century B.C. inhabited by the Peuketiantes, a local people who by the 6th century B.C. were building elaborate multi-use structures influenced by artistic and architectural styles of Greek colonies in Taranto and Corinth. One of the archaeologists who has excavated Torre di Satriano is Massimo Osanna, today the director of the archaeological site of Pompeii.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of the Pompeii archaeological site, expressed dismay. “In addition to being a gesture that injures Pompeii and Italy’s cultural heritage, even though it is not a priceless piece, it hits me on a personal level and it was an area where I had conducted the excavation myself,” he said.

Bronze ornaments in door replica on display before theft. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The bronze stud was an example of that connection between one of the ancient Italic peoples of southern Italy and the colonies of Magna Grecia, which is why it was on display in the Pompeii and the Greeks exhibit in Pompeii’s Palestra Grande (the large gym). One of several bronze ornaments unearthed at the 6th century structure at Torre di Satriano, the wooden door they once adorned had long since decayed. For the exhibition, the stud was set down the middle of a cartoon-like replica of the door with three others just like it, while two larger, highly ornamented bronze knockers were placed on each side, recreating what archaeologists believe was the original placement.

Bronze stud on display before theft. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The director of the Basilicata Regional Museum Hub, Marta Ragozzino, voiced “solidarity to my friend and colleague Massimo Osanna”.

“Above and beyond its extraordinary Lucanian context, which Osanna himself investigated and which the show on Pompeii and the Greeks has finally unveiled to the public, the stolen relic has modest value,” she said.

“But a gesture of this kind leaves us incredulous and pained, a gesture that attacks and wounds the cultural heritage that belongs to the community and, when brought to Pompeii, the whole world”.

Police forensic technician examines place where artifact was stolen. Photo by Circo Fusco/ANSA.The theft was discovered by security guards on the evening of Wednesday, May 17th, at around 8:00 PM. That means the stud was stolen during visiting hours, a bold and/or foolhardy choice since the thieves would have had to get behind the protective plexiglass panel in full public view and unscrew the bronze piece from the door-like panel. After hours, the room is under video surveillance. Police are now reviewing the tapes to see if the perpetrators can be identified.

There have been rumblings about the quality of the security — the ALES firm has the security contract for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage — for some time. To have an artifact stolen in front of the guards’ noses in broad daylight hasn’t exactly silenced the doubters.

 

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Ashmolean acquires unique Civil War painting

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Group portrait of Prince Rupert, Colonel William Legge and Colonel John Russell by William Dobson, ca. 1645, 150 x 198 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmolean Museum has acquired an exceptional group painting by Civil War-era court painter William Dobson. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows donation of nationally significant artworks and antiquities in place of payment of taxes owing, and allocated to the Ashmolean because of the painting’s unique relevance to Oxford during the Civil War.

The work was commissioned by Colonel John Russell, commander of Prince Rupert’s elite Bluecoats regiment, in the winter of 1645–6, less than a year before Dobson’s death. The painting captures three of the Royalist commanders: Prince Rupert, King Charles I’s nephew, Colonel William Legge, the Governor of Oxford, and John Russell. This was a tough time for the three men and for the Royalist cause in general. Rupert, the figure on the left, had just been defeated at Bristol, surrendering the main Royalist port to the Parliamentarians. John Russell, a supporter of Rupert’s who had valiantly fought at the Battle of Naseby and barely survived to fight again at Bristol, is on the right. Legge stands in the center.

The painting is filled with symbols and references to the recent discord between the King and his nephew and to Rupert’s enduring loyalty. The scroll which Rupert holds in his right hand may refer to the blank sheet which Charles had sent to him on which to compose his confession. Instead, being innocent, Rupert asked Legge to return the letter empty, which greatly moved the King and resulted in a pardon. Rupert has also discarded his scarlet cloak which he was recorded as wearing when he rode out of Bristol following his surrender.

Beside the cloak is a dog wearing a collar with the initials ‘P.R.’ The dog is a motif traditionally associated with faithfulness and may, in this painting, be intended to stand for Boye, Rupert’s famed white poodle who rode into battle with the Prince and was killed in 1644 at Marston Moor. To Parliamentarian pamphleteers Boye was a ‘devil dog’ credited with supernatural powers, such as being weapon-proof and able to catch bullets with his teeth. Among Royalists, Boye was also immensely popular and as ‘Sergeant-Major-General Boy’, he became the army’s mascot. There is also, in the painting, hints of revenge likely to be directed towards George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, who led the faction against Rupert and tried to convince the King that his nephew was a traitor. The central figure dips his cockade in the glass of wine which evokes biblical episodes where clothing stained with wine symbolized vengeance.

Oxford became the new Royalist capital in 1642 after Parliamentarians took London and King Charles I fled. There he established his court in exile where it remained until the city was successfully besieged by Parliamentarian forces in 1646 and Charles escaped yet again, this time disguised as a servant.

Elias Ashmole by John Riley (1646–91). Oil on canvas, 124 x 101 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.Elias Ashmole was a staunch Royalist. He left London in 1642 too, and moved to Oxford in 1644 where he was appointed an ordnance officer for the King’s army. A lawyer by trade, Ashmole was a man of eclectic interests including alchemy, botany, astronomy and collecting antiques, coins and books. He took full advantage of the opportunities his new town had to offer. In 1645 he was accepted to Brasenose College where he would pursue his studies in natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.

Long after the Civil War was over and just a year before the Restoration, Ashmole’s renowned collection of coins, book and manuscripts was geometrically expanded when John Tradescant the Younger, who like his father was a famed gardener (they’re both buried in the St. Mary-at-Lambeth churchyard) and collector of varied treasures from books and coins to weapons, taxidermied animals and curiosities of natural science, either gave his collection to Ashmole or was conned out of it by Ashmole in 1659.

The Statutes of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmole-Tradescant collection was bequeathed to Oxford by Ashmole in 1677. In 1683 he had the whole kit and caboodle moved to a new museum on Broad Street custom-built to house the treasures. The collection was by then so large that it filled 26 great chests and had to be moved to the museum by barge. Unlike its predecessors, which were either private holdings or used for institutional research and teaching, the original Ashmolean was the first modern public museum, forming the blueprint for museums as we know them today. That first Ashmolean building on Broad Street still stands, now as the Museum of the History of Science.

Friday, May 19th, is the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birthday. The Ashmolean will be celebrating their founder’s 400th birthday with a grand parade down Broad Street by Civil War reenactors. King Charles I will lead the procession at the head of his army. When they reach the Ashmolean, they will join Elias Ashmole’s birthday party where reenactors will bring to life the characters in his 400th birthday present painting.

 

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National Museums Scotland gets Galloway Hoard for £1.98 million

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Selections from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR) has allocated the Galloway Viking Hoard to the National Museums Scotland (NMS) on the condition that they make an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) to the finder Derek McLennan who discovered the hoard in 2014. NMS has until November of this year to raise the sum. They’ve set up a donation site (which is showing me a DNS error at the moment, probably because it’s brand new).

Unique gold bird pin from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The bulk of the find is a rich Viking-age hoard of silver jewellery and ingots. However, it also contains an outstanding range of exceptional precious metal and jewelled items including a rare gold ingot, a gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt cup of Continental or Byzantine origin. The cup is carefully wrapped in textiles and is the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain or Ireland. This vessel contains further unusual objects: Glass beads from Scandinavia. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.beads; amulets of glass and rock crystal; pilgrimage relics; a silver penannular brooch; another rare gold ingot; five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches of a kind not found in Scotland before; and jewelled aestels, pointers used to read and mark places within medieval manuscripts.

Other finds from around Britain or Ireland have been exceptional for a single type of object—for example, silver brooches or armlets. However, the Galloway Hoard is unique in bringing Stamp-decorated bracelets from Ireland. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.together a remarkable variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond. It also contains objects which have never before been discovered in a hoard of this age. Incredibly, fragile textiles, leather and wooden fragments have also survived, providing an extremely rare opportunity to research and reveal many lost aspects of the Viking Age.

The Dumfries and Galloway Council, which launched a campaign earlier this year to keep the hoard in the county where it was discovered, is less than pleased with the QLTR’s decision.

Cathy Agnew, Campaign chair, said: “This treasure was buried in Galloway for safekeeping 1,000 years ago – it is deeply disappointing that the QLTR believes it should be allocated to the National Museum in Edinburgh where it will potentially be lost amongst so many other wonderful artefacts.

Silver ingots. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.“This is a most unfortunate decision for the region and for Scotland. It is doubly disappointing that a more enlightened approach has not been taken, especially as 2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“The support from the public, from academics, politicians of all parties, and so many others – across Scotland and the world – to keep the hoard in Galloway, where it would be cherished, has been magnificent. It is a real shame their voices and their passion have gone unheeded.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s hard for a county council to win against the resources of a national museum, especially when the local museum that would house the hoard has not actually been built yet. They made a valiant effort, drastically increasing the budget for the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery and raising a great deal of money and support for the cause of keeping the hoard in Dumfries and Galloway. They knew it was a long shot, however, and all the while hoped to be able to come to an agreement with NMS for joint ownership.

Detail of brooch decoration. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.National Museums Scotland showed no interest in shared custody. It thinks it is the proper home for a treasure of international significance, because they have the wherewithal and expertise to give it all the care and security such complex, delicate archaeological materials need. The preservation of the extremely rare surviving organic remains in particular requires specialists and facilities that the National Museums can provide. Its location in Edinburgh will also “ensure that the Hoard is seen by the maximum number of people, from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the UK and internationally.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.In its press release on the allocation of the hoard, NMS had this to say on Dumfries and Galloway’s involvement:

National Museums believes that it is important there is a display of the Hoard in Dumfries and Galloway, and intends to continue to seek a dialogue with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that a representative portion of the Hoard goes on long-term display in Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

Runes inscribed on silver ingot. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s not joint ownership, but it’s something. Had they made a tandem bid that was accepted, the bigger museum would almost certainly have had the greater say in the division and exhibition of assets anyway, so in the end the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery might well end up with much the same sort of display it would have had if they had partnered with NMS.

 

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Preview Rome’s San Giovanni subway museum

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Ancient Roman pottery on display in the San Giovanni subway station. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP.After six years of delays caused by constant archaeological discoveries, the first station of Rome’s new Metro C line is complete. The San Giovanni station near the Papal Archbasilica of St John in Lateran was unveiled to the press this week. The subway stop won’t be open to the public until the end of the year at the earliest because the rest of the line is still under construction. The station’s atrium museum was opened to the public on April 1st of this year, but that was just for the one day. It’s not clear whether visitors will be able to enjoy the exhibits before the official opening of the San Giovanni subway station.

Iron pitchfork from Imperial farm. Photo courtesy the Cooperativa Archeologica.The construction of the San Giovanni station beginning in 2011 unearthed a vast swath of the city’s history, from prehistory to the modern era. The richest finds date to the late Republic and early Imperial era, with the most extraordinary features discovered on a 1st-3rd century A.D. commercial agricultural concern 20 meters (65 feet) below the surface, the closest ever found to the center of the ancient city. Archaeologists discovered farming-related artifacts including a three-pronged iron pitchfork, woven baskets, and leather fragments, possibly from a shoe or glove. The farm’s engineering was evidenced in grooves carved deep into Lines of amphorae recycled as water channels found during San Giovanni construction. Photo courtesy the Cooperativa Archeologica.stone from the many turns of a long-decayed waterwheel, and in recycled amphorae, their ends cut open to be nested into each other in long lines for use as water channels. Archaeologists also found a huge hydraulic reservoir (115 feet by 230 feet), the largest ancient Roman water basin ever found, dating to the 3rd century A.D.

“It’s so big that it goes beyond the perimeter of the (metro) work site and it has not been possible to uncover it completely,” [excavation head Rossella] Rea explained. “It was lined with hydraulic plaster and, on the basis the size that had been determined so far, it could hold more than four million litres of water”. […]

“It seems likely that its main function was to be a water reservoir for crops and an area that made it possible to cope with overflows from the nearby river. No other basin from ancient Roman agriculture is of comparable size. Beyond the walls of the work site it extends toward the (ancient city) wall, where it is probably preserved”.

Organic finds from the Imperial-era farm. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP.San Giovanni’s massive archaeological endowment didn’t stop there. A surprising number of well-preserved archaeobotanical remains were recovered, among them seeds, nuts, and the roots and stumps of willows and other trees. A number of peach pits were also discovered, likely the remnants of the farm’s orchards. Peaches are not native Roman fruits — these probably originated in Persia — and even in the Imperial era they were still considered an expensive, exotic import. It indicates that the farm was used to produce luxury foods, likely for the Imperial table.

Clay and lead pipes from the 1st century A.D. on display at San Giovanni station. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP.And that’s just scratching the surface of what was found during the San Giovanni dig. More than 40,000 artifacts were unearthed (hence the half a decade of delays): ancient pottery, coins, oil lamps, delicate glass perfume bottles, baked clay pipes, lead pipes, architectural elements, sculptures, reliefs, colorful dishware from the 17th through 19th centuries and on and on. The station museum displays a broad selection of these treasures in spacious, well-lit display cases.

Strata and dates marked on the wall as the escalator descends to the train platforms. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP.The station has been ingeniously designed to take advantage of its subterranean location to create an immersive time machine experience for travelers and visitors. Riders enter the station today, then as they descend towards the train platforms, they pass through the Middle Ages to the Rome of the Emperors to the Republic all the way back to the Pleistocene. Artifact exhibits and information panels accompany you as you time travel, marking important dates in the city’s history.

Amphorae on display at San Giovanni station. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP. Roman copper, bronze and silver coins from 3rd century A.D. on display at San Giovanni station. Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP.

 

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Rodin’s unique Absolution on display for the first time

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Absolution on display in Kiefer-Rodin exhibit, Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution, a unique and mysterious work by Auguste Rodin, has gone on display at Paris’ Musée Rodin for the first time since its creation in around 1900. Very little is known about this sculpture. There is no documentation about it in the artist’s archives, and he never made a marble, terracotta or bronze version of it. It’s such an experimental piece with no directly comparable works in Rodin’s oeuvre that curators aren’t even sure if it’s finished. The fact that he kept it at all suggests Rodin was at least satisfied with it.

Absolution before treatment. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.It has never been exhibited before because it is incredibly fragile. Three plaster sculptures are draped with a fabric coated in plaster, the latter of which posed a particularly thorny conservation challenge. It was kept in storage wrapped in paper, and when conservators removed the wrapping, they found the piece coated in dust and broken in several places. The three plaster figures had come apart and the fabric had lost a good portion of its plaster coating. In order to even get to the figures, the draping had to be lifted which, given its extreme fragility, was a risky operation. Then the broken figures had to be put back together and the fabric, cleaned and repaired, put back in place. They had to accomplish all of this with just an old black and white photograph of how the sculpture had once looked to go on.

This video shows the difficulties conservators had to overcome to stabilize Absolution enough to put it on display, albeit in a glass box to protect it from even the smallest breeze that might cause the textile to move.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/n43FrRR6TGM&w=430]

Ugolino absolved by the Earth in "Absolution," during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Rodin was one of the first sculptors to include textiles in his artworks. He took advantage of the flexibility of the medium to drape and mold the fabric, which he would then coat in plaster. The integration of textiles lent his sculptures a soft, fluid element in marked contrast with the hardness of plaster and stone. In Absolution the textile envelopes the figures of a man, Ugolino della Gherardesca, betrayer of his benefactor, condemned to the lowest circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno; a woman, representing the Earth; and the head of a martyr. The draping obscures many details of the sculpture within, framing and highlighting the thematic significance of the kiss of forgiveness, the eponymous absolution.

Scaffolding erected around "Absolution" for conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution has been on display since last month at the Kiefer-Rodin exhibit. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of Rodin’s death by pairing his work with pieces by contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer that were inspired by sculptures and drawings by Rodin. Like Rodin, Kiefer experimented with contrasting media, hard and soft, textile and stone. By putting Kiefer and Rodin together, the exhibition emphasizes the modernity of Rodin’s vision. It will run through the end of the year.

Conservators use an old photograph as a guide during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.The original plan was for Absolution to travel to the Barnes in Philadelphia where it would be on display from November 2017 until March 2018 before returning for permanent display in Paris, but the Musée Rodin’s conservators determined that it is impossible to transport the delicate sculpture anywhere, never mind across the Atlantic, without damaging it. The textile is the main sticking point. Any vibration or movement can cause the gypsum to flake off, and because of the way it is draped over the plaster figures, it can’t be packed or wedged in a way that supports it during transit. Figuring out protective packaging for the textile would be so complex and experimental an engineering challenge that the Musée Rodin is unwilling to take the risk.

So Absolution is staying in Paris, safe from people’s breath and air currents in its glass box.

 

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